Some of my readers have noticed that I rarely refer to being spanked by my father. To be honest, I actually cannot definitively remember being spanked by my father. As I’ve written before, my father and I were very close up to the point where my beliefs diverged from his. I was his golden girl, is special firstborn daughter. But he had this idea of what I was supposed to be like so firmly in his mind he couldn’t handle it when I started diverging from that. At some point during my college years my relationship with my father ended. It was the most painful thing I had ever experienced, but the reason it was so painful was because of everything that had come before.
My father built us swing set equipment from scratch in our backyard. He let us help, too, handing him things, marking the places for the saw, and so forth. Dad loved projects, and any time he had vacation time we’d be off to the hardware store for this or that. He made us children feel involved, wanted, needed. And of course, he always made the project fun. For Christmas one year he surprised me by making me a bed for my American Girl doll. It looked just like the one in the catalog.
My dad told us amazing bedtime stories with recurring characters. Sometimes the stories were so scary we huddled close to him and put our arms around his neck, or sat on his lap, waiting in eager anticipation for the story to resolve itself. We always begged for more. If we were feeling restless when story time was over and bedtime had set in in earnest, he would “staple” us into bed by pressing his fists up and down on top of the covers on either side of us, saying “ca-CHUNKA ca-CHUNKA” as he did so. We would giggle and say it hadn’t worked and slip out of bed and he would catch us and tickle us.
Sometimes when I transgressed in some way my mother would send me to the bathroom to wait for my father to come home from work and spank me. When he got home, he would come into the small room and look at me. “Did you learn your lesson?” he would ask. “Yes!” I would exclaim. Determining that sitting and waiting had been punishment enough—and that my mother had probably overreacted because of her lady hormones—he would let me off without a spanking. But not wanting to upset my mother, we would conspire together. My father would hit the paddle against the counter or the little bench in the bathroom, and I would yelp as convincingly as I could. We would have a laugh together before I straightened my countenance so that we could leave the bathroom without arousing suspicion.
When we were older, my father would play board games with us. Risk, and Scotland Yard, and so many others. We would sit around our large kitchen table with enough players for all of the colors, and attack each others armies or take subways across London. And dad humored us, too, when we married our children to each other to end a Risk game rather than keep playing late into the night and risk upsetting another sibling with impending annihilation.When we were younger we would build forts in the basement, and ask dad to attack them. He would, pretending to be a bear, and we would defend ourselves and fight him off. Only later did I realize the fine line he walked, attacking fiercely enough to make the game fun but not so fiercely as to win and actually invade our blanket-covered chair-board-and-couch fort.
Sometimes we would play “steamroller” in the living room. Dad would be the steamroller, rolling from side to side across the room, and we would run laughing out of his way. Sometimes I would let a foot get caught under him and then fall to the ground laughing as he rolled over me. We planed other games, too. In one game, we would try to get from one side of the room to the ether without dad catching us, and if we got caught dad would hold us on the ground laughing with one hand while trying to catch another scampering child. Sometimes he would end up with a stack of us under his hand, moving and giggling and finally breaking free, ready to run back and forth again and be caught once more. Dad was always ready for a tussle, and he loved leaving his children with smiles and giggles.
And then there were the family vacations. We went to historic sites and visited museums. We usually camped but sometimes stayed in a hotel, sneaking in a few at a time to avoid the official occupancy limit. Dad would tell us stories of the places we visited, battles from long ago. We hiked through woods and collected pebbles and leafs. We visited battlefields and pretended we were soldiers, reenacting maneuvers.
My father simply didn’t know how to let me grow up. He didn’t know how to switch from interacting with me as his golden daughter to interacting with me as an adult making my own way in the world. He couldn’t handle me disagreeing with him, because in his mind that meant he had failed me. Perhaps he was so afraid of seeing me hurt and so sure that his way was the only way for me not to be hurt that he simply couldn’t handle it when I saw things differently. Perhaps he simply wanted to protect me, but in doing so he forgot that he couldn’t protect me forever, and that at some point he had to let go and let me grow up.
Today, my relationship with my father is a shell of what it once was. We interact, but our interactions are always surface level. It’s like our every exchange is overladen by the aching hole of what once was but is no longer. It still hurts. I often wish things could be different, but they aren’t. At least I still have my memories.